Kauri Park – A comeback in photography
It’s been almost one year since my last post … Oh boy! Where to start? I’m sorry. I really am. I shouldn’t have kept you waiting for so long. But while I had to put my trip on hold for a bit, there wasn’t too much to speak about really. In order to deliver new exciting footage for you in the near future, I’ve been working for New Zealand’s biggest native plant nursery for the last seven month. Recently I was able to make my comeback from nursery worker to freelance photographer. I’m glad to present the following series to you. Welcome to Kauri Park!
This story will be published in two parts:
When the idea came up to have me take pictures of the nursery and some of the urban – and roadside planting projects, I was more than happy to hang up my work shirt and dig out my dusty old camera from deep down in the closet. I had basically not taken a single image in over half a year at that time. Yeah I was pretty concentrated on making money there for a while. But let’s get back to the story…
I had actually sold my whole Fuji system and considered going for a mirrorless medium format camera. In the end I went with the Sony A7R II, THE full frame mirrorless option on the market. The mirrorless medium format was still too big, too expensive and not developed enough for my taste. As my only two lenses, I chose the fantastic 24-70mm F2.8 Sony “standard zoom” and as a real secret weapon the incredible Laowa 12mm F2.8 ultra-wide angle with nearly no distortion! But I don’t want to bore anyone with the details here; we’ll just get right into the job now!
I was given a long list of ideas for potential photos but was otherwise left with the freedom to move around the nursery and make my own decisions. As an easy start I decided to jump in with close-ups of good quality plants and some nice colorful leaves.
Most of the images on the list included people and their daily workflow though. A good chance for me to get out of my comfort zone and work on my social skills as a photographer! I soon realized that my new 12mm wasn’t only valuable for wide landscape shots, but also extremely helpful to get those close-up angles that bring you right into the action. With a minimum focal distance of only 18cm I was able to go as close as I felt necessary. Of course, getting pictures from “right in the action” required being right in the action. So I spent a lot of time on the ground, in the plants or in otherwise uncomfortable positions. But the results were definitely worth it.
Following the line of production I then captured the journey of the seedlings from the planting machines to the finished rows in the field. Jobs that I knew very well from working in the nursery myself. Having no autofocus on the Laowa was a little challenging at times, especially when I had to be fast. But after a few days I got quite used to the idea of guessing distances to my subjects. And anything over 3 meters meant focusing into infinity anyway. When there was no hurry, I could always zoom in with the viewfinder (one of many advantages of the electrical viewfinders) and nail the focus bang on.
To show the organization and size of the nursery, I had to come up with better ideas then just shooting from the ground. One technique I came up with was very helpful to achieve some higher angles. With the camera on my fully extended tripod, I climbed on whatever vehicle I was using at the time and tried to position the camera roughly in the right direction high above my head. I was either using the timer function of the camera or my wireless remote to take pictures. With a bit of trial and error, I soon got a good feeling on how to angle the camera without seeing the screen.
But in the end my special tripod angles were not quite enough to show the scale and size of the whole nursery, which brought me to the company drone. After a quick introduction in flying the DJI Phantom III, the drone became part of my equipment for the rest of this job. Flying the drone was incredibly fun but also a great tool to capture different perspectives that people are not (yet) used to seeing so much. These drones are the perfect showcases of how incredibly fast technology is advancing these days. I would surely miss having a drone a lot after this job …
Another task was to capture the fast movements of Kubotas (a special RTV for farm use) and other vehicles in the nursery. To capture movements it’s usually necessary to take long exposures while moving at the same speed of the subject. This way you get the vehicle sharp while everything around it is blurred out. I had taken these kinds of images in previous jobs in Germany, mainly shooting classical sports cars on country roads. But this time I didn’t have enough space to use panning shots (where you pan a passing subject with a telephoto lens horizontally). Following Kubotas on the back of a quad bike also turned out to be very difficult because the rough gravel roads around the nursery produced too much camera shake. On one of my more creative days, I even hooked myself onto a Kubota with a long metal pole while sitting on a rolling trolley base and tried to take handheld long exposures while the whole assembly was in movement within the production shed. I only had to remove the metal pole in Photoshop to get a usable image.
In the end I got the best results by shooting out of the back of a Ford Explorer while someone was driving me closely ahead of the farm vehicles at the same speed. To get pictures of the company trucks, we repeated the exact same procedure on the main highway, while a second car was blocking passing traffic from overtaking the truck. Again I didn’t have much space between my subject and me but with the 12mm I was still able to capture the full truck. Unfortunately there was no third lane available for this stunt. ;)
I was able to capture (and edit) most pictures on my list within one week and got ready to shoot heaps of projects throughout the whole North Island in the following week. I sincerely enjoyed using my new camera system and am very happy about the increased picture quality over my previous Fuji system.
Read more about this job in my next post. It will be coming to you soon, from a sailboat somewhere within the Pacific … ;)